In the 1980s of my Gen X teen years, my favorite place on earth was the mall. Any mall. Living on the border in rural Idaho, we’d cruise the strip around our tiny eight-store mall in neighboring Southeast Oregon. (In teen parlance that “cruising” could also lead to sex, but mostly consisted of driving cars up and down the main road and stopping to flirt and smoke). When I could drive to the big mall 30 miles away, it was an all day event — and when I visited my mom in California, I went to every single mall in the San Fernando Valley. Glendale Galleria was my shrine one summer, where I saw both a Rick Springfield and a Tiffany concert, and learned to talk like a Valley girl. In the decades since, most American malls have closed or faltered.
So I was thrilled to visit a mall outside Milan, where we were attending the 38th Annual International LGBTQ+ Travel Association Global Conference. Milan is an amazing fast-paced, fashionable, and fascinating city. But 50 miles away, in the Piedmontese countryside were two places I enjoyed even more. (Yes, I know, I’m relinquishing my sophistication card right now.)
The Gavi region is wine country (the delightful white Gavi wine can only be made here), and the area offers up numerous wineries, country homes turned B&Bs, biking and hiking paths, and eateries where you can smell the sea air and see the Italian Alps as you dine alfresco.
At Villa Sparina, a working winery turned resort, you can (in season) help harvest grapes, dig for truffles (if you find a white one, keep it to sell, locals say), and learn to cook like an Italian chef (one hour of training and I now make the best gnocchi my family has ever had — they swear). The ancient cellars and intimate spaces make this one romantic destination!
The author making gnocchi photo by Jacob Anderson-Minshall
But the next spot aroused my senses even more. Just down the road from Villa Sparina is Europe’s largest outlet mall, McArthurGlen Serravalle Designer Outlet. This is not the kind of outlet mall where you find defective cardigans and slightly off-color runs of designer bags. This is an outdoor pavilion around which 300 luxury brands have year-round stores that sell the prior season’s fashions and accessories.
Gucci, Prada, Versace, Guess, Valentino, Coach, Fendi, Ermenegildo Zegna, Karl Lagerfeld, Off-White, Saint Laurent, Balmain, and Balenciaga, all have stores here. With this level of luxury, even at up-to-70-percent off, I still found plenty of $2,500 items I could only ogle. Some stores feature doormen and velvet-roped waiting lines to keep out the riff-raff. Too impatient to stand in line while dozens of other stores welcomed swift entry, I hopscotched past most of those and came out with half a dozen couture items for around $200.
There are no taxes for non-EU residents and Serravalle has an (invitation-only) airport-quality guest lounge where you can relax with complimentary wine, coffee, and snacks until you get your second wind. You can also have each store hold your purchases and then deliver them to you at the VIP lounge. It’s truly a femme dream come true.
The mall has its own shuttle service from Milan and back (through Zani Viaggi at Milan Central Station daily). It’s about a 45-minute ride from the Genoa airport, 1 hour from Milan, and 90 minutes from Turin. There’s also train service, and many tourists fly in, rent a car, and drive out just to visit the Serravalle Designer Outlet (mcarthurglen.it/serravalle). I know I would!
But the region begs to be visited for longer stretches so you can truly appreciate the rolling hills and the Gavi wine, take longer treks to the mall – and learn to cook like an Italian grandmother.